Wilmington Morning News - September 19, 1980

Sparky Lyle gets new lease on life in pennant race


By Hal Bodley, Sports Editor


CHICAGO – Sparky Lyle had just finished sealing Tug McGraw's 5-4 victory over Pittsburgh Wednesday night and there was a trace of nervousness as he took off his Phillies' uniform.


"The adrenalin's flowing," Sparky Lyle said. "We're in a pennant race and I love it."


The Phillies, of course, obtained Lyle Saturday from the Texas Rangers and, since arriving, he has worked in three consecutive games. The defense collapsed on him in his pin-striped debut Sunday against the St. Louis Cardinals and four runs scored. Against the Pirates, he showed signs of why he is regarded as one of the best stoppers in baseball.


"But I'm still not there," the 36-year-old Lyle said. "When I came here, I had not pitched for 11 days.. Everyone who knows me knows that I have to get a lot of work to be effective. Against the Pirates, I just threw sliders and tried to keep the ball down."


Since arriving, Lyle has kept a low profile. He has initiated no clubhouse pranks, the kind he wrote about in "The Bronx Zoo."


On the other hand, his teammates have been teasing him – about his cowboy boots and the elaborate portable tape deck he carries on the road.


Despite his reputation, there seems to be a very serious side to Sparky Lyle. He took the ball he used for the final out Wednesday night and asked Tug McGraw to write something on it.


"That ball is going to be a cherished souvenir," said Lyle.


"What's it like walking into somebody else's pennant race?" somebody asked.


"I'm just grateful for it," said Lyle, who admitted he had made three separate airline reservations to Philadelphia on Saturday as he waited for the deal to be completed. "Being a pitcher and having the job I have, this is without a doubt the most exciting thing that could happen to me after the two, three years I have gone through.


"I want to pitch as well as I can pitch. I just hope I have enough time between now and the end of the season for me to show that I can get my act back together."


Lyle, who said he is anxious to see Wrigley Field when the Phils open a three-game series with the Cubs today, is not worried about facing strange batters.


"I never have had too much difficulty with that," he said. “I still have to do my own thing out there. I haven't had the feeling I have now for a long, long time. It's difficult to describe it."


As the Phils try to overtake Montreal in National League East, trying to chop away the Expos' 1½-game lead, Lyle could play an important role. And if the Phils should make it to the playoffs and possibly a World Series, Sparky Lyle will be on the sidelines.


"There's nothing I can do about that," he said. "I'm not eligible and I knew that when I came here. But if we do make it, I'm going to be there cheering these guys on. It will make my heart glad, just like coming here made my heart glad. This is the time of the year that you wait for from the beginning of spring training."


Before coming to the Phils, Lyle had pitched in 796 games, a total of 1,253 innings. His save on Wednesday night pushed his career total to 232.


Talking with Sparky Lyle, you get the idea the Phils' final 17 games are the most important of his life.


"And I'm going to enjoy every minute of this," he said. "No, make that every second."

Phils, Expos, Pirates stay calm before the storm


By Gary Mihoces, Associated Press Writer


PITTSBURGH – It was all quiet in the National League East yesterday, too quiet for Manager Chuck Tanner of the Pittsburgh Pirates.


"I wish we did play today. I hate to have an off-day when we lose. I really do," said Tanner, whose defending World Series champions are chasing both the Montreal Expos and the Philadelphia Phillies.


All six teams in the division were idle in advance of three weekend series that will match the contenders against the bottom three teams.


First-place Montreal plays in St Louis tonight. "I don't want to watch the World Series on television this year," says Warren Cromartie of the Expos.


The Phillies, 1½ games back, meet the Cubs in Chicago this afternoon. "We'll be rootin' for whoever is playing Montreal," says Philadelphia reliever Tug McGraw. "But we have six games with the Expos and that's going to do a lot in deciding who wins."


The Pirates, five games back with their backs to the wall, meet the New York Mets tonight in Three Rivers Stadium.


Tanner remains the eternal optimist, just as he was in last year's World Series when the Pirates fell behind three games to one against Baltimore.


"You don't win the pennant until the numbers say you do. And you don't lose it until the numbers say you do," said Tanner.


But there's a difference between last year and the current Pirate situation. In the Series, the Pirates were eyeball to eyeball with the team they had to beat.


But in the last two weeks of this season, the Pirates have no more games left with Philadelphia and only two more against Montreal.


"We're rooting for the other teams now," said Tanner. "It's a tough position to be in, but we're asking for someone to give us some help."


On Wednesday night, the Pirates battled back from a 4-1 deficit against Philadelphia's Steve Carlton. But the Phils won 5-4 in 11 innings.


It was the 19th defeat in 28 games for the Pirates. Willie Stargell, at age 39, may be out for the season with a knee problem that has sidelined him since mid-August, and the Pirate bullpen has faltered.


"We've just got to hope for the best," said reliever Kent Tekulve, 0-5 the past month, including Wednesday night's loss to the Phils.


"At this point, we are not in control of our own destiny anymore," Tekulve added. "There’s no guarantee that if we win them all we're going to win the division... but knowing the people on this club, we'll just keep battling until the numbers say we are out of it."


The Phillies left Pittsburgh with their fate in their hands. They have three games at home against the Expos and then finish the season with three in Montreal.


A year ago at this stage, the Phillies were 13½ games out of first place.


"I'm very proud of this team. We could have quit but we didn't," said Philadelphia Manager Dallas Green.


"The Pirates know that we've got six games with Montreal," said Green. "We're going to be banging each other, and if they play good baseball, they've got a chance to stay right there. They're not dead by any stretch of the imagination."


Expos Manager Dick Williams agreed as his team headed to St Louis. "Hey, I'd rather have a 100-game lead with 99 to play, but this is what we have. It's interesting.


"There are three clubs fighting it out, and there are three clubs out of it trying to beat them," said Williams.


Oddly, the Pirates are 11-7 this season against the Phils and 11-5 against Montreal, but Pittsburgh is 5-7 against the Mets.


“If we have played every club as tough as we play the Pirates, we’d be a contender,” said New York Manager Joe Torre.